All In

It was a manuscript written 20 years ago. Two decades later, “All In,” the debut novel by Arlington’s Lisa Simonds, has been published and is as relevant today as it was upon its inception – which occurred almost by happenstance.

Simonds describes a trip in the 1990s to New York City with friends:

“We got out the phonebook – as we always did while traveling – to see how many people with our last names were listed. In that thick Manhattan phonebook was a single listing for a person with the same name as my friend. Two initials and a surname, as a single woman might’ve listed her number back in those days. The address was only a few blocks from our Midtown hotel, and we joked about calling to see if she was a long lost cousin who might take us to her favorite shops and restaurants.”

They never called. But the question still lingered, “What if?”

“What if that serendipitous phone call resulted in a friendship that became a lifeline because this person was about to go through a crisis?” asks Simonds, “And that was the genesis for the novel.”

The story of young novelist and blackjack dealer “Cami Taylor” has resonated with readers across the country. Upon its release, “All In” was in Morgan James Publishing’s Top Five.

“It sort of found me,” says Simonds of her writing background. Her father’s side of the family were writers, including an uncle who wrote for the Burleson Star. Simonds says she wrote satirical plays in high school. She started journaling in the 1980s, and that led her to working on short stories and then joining writers groups. “I think it was always there,” she says.

In reviews, “All In” has been described as “gritty, realistic Christian fiction that emphasizes the power of friendship.” Simonds says it is a story of hope and redemption in the face of an insurmountable crisis. That is one of the reasons she donated hundreds of signed copies of her novel to Bookmates4inmates. Although the non-profit organization is based in California, it serves only women in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The decision was initially made as a beta test. But with limited resources, Bookmates4inmates decided it best to focus on this segment of the population of inmates.

According to the TDCJ, there are more than 12,000 females in state jails and prisons.

“Reading, and especially reading fiction, increases empathy, because people are given a chance to see something through somebody else’s point of view,” says Simonds. “I just felt like this is a good thing.”

“All In” was distributed to the women on death row at Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas and to other women in protective custody. Thirty six of them wrote and sent book reviews back to Simonds.

“One woman said she had a past that was very similar, and it was terrifying to read this book,” Simonds says. She adds that the review went on to say, “But it gave me so much hope and helped to put my past behind me.”

Simonds spends her free time marketing “All In.” She hopes to generate enough buzz in the literary world to host book signings and readings in the near future. She is also working on a second manuscript and plans to hand it over to an editor in the first half of next year.

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Toni Randle-Cook

Toni Randle-Cook is a contributing writer for AT Magazine.